Depth of field (DOF)

depth-of-fieldDepth of field (DOF) refers to how much of a photo is sharp in front and back of where you focus on the main subject. DOF is primarily controlled by aperture size though other factors come into play such as the focal length of the lens and the distance the background is from the subject.

Photographers may consciously control depth of field for artistic purposes, aiming to achieve attractive background blur known as bokeh. For example, a shallow depth of field is often used when taking close up shots so the background is blurred and the main subject is in sharp focus.

More (deep) DOF

Cups

Photo with deep depth of field

Deep depth of field means that all or most of the picture is in focus from front to back. It is often used for capturing subjects in the distance, such as in landscape scenes.

The further away your camera is from the subject, the greater the depth of field.

Higher f-stop numbers obtained by using smaller apertures produce deep depth of field. Short focal lengths, such as when a lens is set at wide angle, help increase depth of field.

Less (shallow) DOF

Photo with shallow depth of field

Photo with shallow depth of field

Less depth of field means that a subject is in focus but objects in front and behind it appear out of focus. Less DOF is often desired when taking portrait, close-up and macro shots.

Lower f-stops (larger apertures) decrease DOF. Long focal lengths (zooming in) produce less DOF.

You can also make the background appear out of focus by placing the subject close to the camera and having the background far away.

If you can’t manually control aperture, use Portrait or Macro mode for shallow depth of field. For deep depth of field, use Landscape or Infinity mode.

Depth of field video tutorial

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19 Responses

  1. Daniel says:

    Thank you for the video really helpful….great

  2. Gail Bjork says:

    Marsha, the trick is to use at or near the wides aperture (smallest f number; eg f2). This will vary with each lens. Here are some additional tips.

  3. Marsha Mendez says:

    I just brought a Nikon D 5100, and i am trying to create a shallow DOF, can you guve any pointers

  4. Gail Bjork says:

    ida, it’s very difficult to get a blurred background (I assume that’s what you’re asking) with a compact digital camera because of it’s small sensor. If your camera has semi-automatic modes, switch to aperture priority mode and use the widest aperture possible (low f-stop). Also, try some of these tips. Take some photos and experiment with some of the settings and focal lengths.

  5. ida says:

    Hello, thank you for the tutorial on depth of field; however, I have a question. I am a student using a coolpix camera, how can I get the depth of field look you have in your video using my camera? Is this possible to do?

    Thank you very much

  6. Sushi says:

    Wow!! i didn’t know about this until now and i thought it doesnt make any difference whether its on portrait or in landscape mode
    thank you :D this is really helpful

  7. Gail Bjork says:

    pals, if you’re using a DSLR it may have a depth of field button. Press it to actually see how the dof will appear in an image. Here is a very handy depth-of-field calculator.

  8. pals says:

    just wondering, is there a way , where we csn preassume/calculate the amount of subject we want sharp, i.e; if we want 2/3 of a perfume bottle sharp & rest blur .

  9. Gail Bjork says:

    To blur the background you will have to shoot with a large aperture, and follow some of the techniques listed in this article (focal length, distance subject is to the background} to achieve background blur. For portraits, a focal length equivalent between 80 and 135 is often used In low light, you’ll have to up the ISO but this may introduce noise into the photo. I think your lens has only a 3.5 aperture so you may want to consider getting or renting a faster lens with a lager aperture (F1.2, F1.4 or F1.8) It will give a better background blur, focus better in low light and you can use lower ISO numbers.

    Here’s an article about renting lenses. If you decide to rent, get the lens ahead of time to become familiar with it’s handling and capabilities BEFORE the wedding. Some lens rental places do not provide a manual unless you specifically request one.

    You may find these articles helpful:

    Wedding photography

    Wedding photography tips

  10. Khalid says:

    I am working as wedding photogrpaher right now and using Canon EOS40 D Camera with 18-135 lens & mostly use it camera on manual mode.
    Can you please advise how can I take DOF portrait photography as I want my subject to be in focus and background in blurred.  Please confirm what mode should i should I use  Or Can this cam give the desired result and how?

  11. Gail Bjork says:

    Jasmine, try setting your camera to M Mode (Manual Exposure Shooting discussed on page 23 of the camera manual). Choose the widest aperture available, which is F3.5. It won’t give you the greatest shallow depth of field but there are other things you can do such as changing the focal length or the distance you stand from the subject. See our DOF quick guide for tips.

    Also try Soft Snap mode when shooting portraits or flowers.

  12. Jasmin says:

    I really like this effect and want tot try it on my Sony H55
    I see now there is no aperture control for this model.
     
    what is the best way to control DoF on this H55?

  13. jasa says:

    Very nice tutorial. THanks!

  14. Gail Bjork says:

    Dan, For shots like the mug, zoom in get closer to the subject (though not close like a macro shot). If you’re shooting a portrait shot, move the subject a few feet away from the background, rather than having him or her stand close to it.

    Check out the Depth of field quick guide

    Here are a few examples of what you can expect from the s90. Check the EXIF data for the aperture used.

    btw, because the s90 has a small sensor (though larger than most compact cameras), don’t expect to achieve blurred backgrounds like you would with a DSLR. But you can get some blurred background by using the suggestions above. Experiment.

    Enjoy your new camera!

  15. Dan says:

    Hi, I just bought a Canon s90 and I’m having trouble getting shallow DoF from it. I am an Intro. Photo. student and I can’t get the same shallow depth at the lowest aperture, f2, in my practice shots. Everything stays in focus on shots I try, like with the teacups. Is there anything else I should be doing to get these types of shots?

  16. m says:

    An excellent depth of field video tutorial.  Many thanks.

  17. Rich Remmey says:

    Very well done.

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